Oh by the way, this is The Run-Off Groove, #194 in the series. I am John Book the second and most likely last installment in the human series. Welcome. Let's begin.
The 4th world war described in Erykah Badu's new album title is a sly reference to this being her fourth proper album, but it could also be a look at history and where things are headed. Some historians claim that World War III didn't have to be titled, but it either happened or is happening. If this is the case, one can only imagine the kind of devastation a 4th World War will bring, and is it possible for civilization as we know it to remain civilized. Badu looks at the world from a social and mental point of view with New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) (Universal Motown), one of the more thought provoking albums in recent memory, and one of the most thought provoking soul albums in ages.
While the album is being promoted with the single and video for "Honey", the song itself is not part of the album's main theme. In fact, the song is a hidden bonus track, as if to thank the listener for understanding the theme so here's a parting gift. So what is the album about? First off, it had been announced last year that Badu would be releasing three albums, so this Part One is just one of three installments (the second will be arriving sometime this summer). The album is a look at not only the world, but more importantly what the United States has become in the last few years, whether it's a police state, a state of neo-conservatism, a place where the poor dwell and the rich swell, or a land where the intelligence of the youth is being cut off at the source. It's social as well as political, something she hinted at way back on the great 2000 album Mama's Gun. By claiming that there will never be any buildings named after her, she wasn't only speaking about her but for all descendants of Africa living in America, and in many ways any person of color. That need to push someone else's defined limits while proclaiming her stance on present day issues is the theme throughout this album, letting the sleepers know what the alert have been aware of for years, if not decades.
Badu does it in a way that for the most part isn't friendly, she doesn't hold back in her lyrics. She is very much a child of soul, funk, and jazz, but as is the case with anything she has ever recorded, she is very much a child of hip-hop, so when she sings when niggas turn to gods, walls come tumblin', it's not so much a statement as it is a warning, one that she revives in "Master Teacher". The song, which also features Georgia Anne Muldrow, has a hook based on a song by SA-RA (the song was co-produced by Shafiq Husayn of the group) where they say what if there was no niggas, just master teachers/I stay woke, all while a sample of Curtis Mayfield "Freddie's Dead" is chopped up and placed there to make a statement. If Fred is indeed dead, what is the after effect? Everyone exists looking for some sense of a beautiful world where people showed respect for one another, instead of constant bashing and prejudice due to one's skin tone. While Muldrow's voice is distinctly different from Badu's, their performances in the song show that they are perfect for each other, as both draw from two different faucets of the same source.
"Me" is a celebration of all that is her, and everything and everyone that made her who she is today, from her mom to Louis Farrakhan, and the line had two babies, different dudes/and for them both my love was true/this is my last interview/hey, that's me is a clever way of addressing a part of her personal life that has been attached to her career but as she says, hey, that's me. The struggles of being who you are, defined by what someone else feels you are, is the subject of the minimalist "My People", one of two tracks produced by Madlib. She encourages listeners to look forward to the future, despite the pain, pressures, and hatred of the past and present. "Soldier" speaks to the potential youth of today but hopes that the so-called adults aren't too busy being foolish by killing them, something that has been occuring far too much in the last few years. She makes reference to 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and bow ties to The Final Call, and in many ways is saying "we've been warning you for years, but no one listened." Strength in unity, strength in numbers, strength in investment, strength in community and family, it's now looking past what has happened and trying to make better for the next time, because there's always a next time.
"The Cell" is the funkiest song on the album, backed by a Bay Area-type groove. The song suggests that by having the same DNA, are we all doomed to repeat ourselves throughout history? This is very much about the black man living in America, where people look to drugs to get out of a situation, post nude to want and demand better, a man using his money to buy spinners for his car than to make a real estate investment, or trying to just live but only end up dying by a bullet. The suffering has gone on for years, and the reference to 2Pac (Brenda done died with no name/nickel bag coke to the brain) states that the vicious circle is still going on. The cells within become a metaphorical cell of mental and social significance, and while Badu sings about a vaccine that will one day cure diseases, she may also be seeking a vaccine that will help escape the conditions people were put in but find impossible to do.
"Telephone" is a call from the world beyond, and is actually done as a message coming in to James "Dilla" Yancey. On an album where the listener is literally on the edge of their seat, supporting her about the modern day ball of confusion, Badu ends the album in a somber note, allowing herself to become spiritual for a personal and musical friend that a lot of people had shown support for when he was alive, hoping he would become the next "it" man in terms of hip-hop production. The song tears away the layer the public knew him for, and establish him as an ordinary man with a gift to make music in his own way. By singing of his passage from the physical world to eternal peace, Badu sings just fly away to heaven, brother/make a place for me, brother/fly away to heaven brother, celebrate for me brother/fly away to heaven, brother, put in a word for me. The metaphorical concept of heaven is one that relies on finding some sense of inner calm and peace, maybe in life it's impossible, but one has to find some sense of balance in order to live and be good, the yin/yang philosophy which suggests that with everything bad, some good must be. By the time she reaches the end, you can tell the song had taken a lot out of her. She sounds overwhelmed by her performance and the lyrics that came forth, some of which were improvised during the session. The 9th Wonder-produced "Honey" almost sounds out of place compared with the intense content of the album, but it's the Friday night to the weekly grind of the album, and now that we've reached the weekend, it's time to let loose, enjoy what life has to offer, and have fun.
New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) is a very heady album that is as claustrophobic as Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back was twenty years ago. Both offer worlds that are lived 24 hours a day, and despite the 20 year different between them, the struggles are the same and the need for community values are still in place, as it always has been. If one listens to the current state of R&B or what some will dare call modern day soul, Badu sounds nothing like them and no one at this time would even dare touch the kind of material and themes she is willing to take a chance on. Outside of "Honey" as a bonus track, there are no hits on this album, but this is an album meant to be heard as an album, when was the last time you heard an artist offering music that is not audio wallpaper? This album is not meant to be isolated for the iPod generation, it is meant to be a suite, a concept, a soul opera that is up there with Tommy and The Wall in terms of defining an artist and an art form. It's thought provoking and motivating, retaining her passion for the funk and soul, sticking to her hip-hop credentials for speaking and demanding to be heard, all while showing and sharing the poetic spirit that has been passed on to her from those who struggled in the same way. If this is Part One, I don't know how much deeper she will get when the next two albums come out.
(New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) is available from CD Universe.)
Warpaint (Silver Arrow) is an album that received a bit of attention a few weeks before its official release because Maxim magazine ran a review of the album when the writer had only listened to a song or two. The Black Crowes wrote an open letter to the magazine and basically called the magazine a bunch of idiots. The funny thing is, when in the hell did Maxim become the great place for music reviews? If you want firmer and more realistic breast implants, you go there. But the hype worked, and people who weren't aware The Black Crowes hadn't existed as a band for seven years now knew they had a new album out in stores.
Here we are in 2008, and we have a new Black Crowes album. Hype aside, how's the music? To be honest, it is one hell of an album, and fans of Southern, bluesy rock will love how well Chris Robinson sounds on this one, the man seems to be more refined as time goes on. Their sound, complimented by brother Rich Robinson and Steve Gorman on guitars, is as tight and powerful as it was when they first started recording for Def American years ago, and on Warpaint they even add a bit of country and Americana to their sound. Or maybe it's always been there, it's just that there are new names that try to define the elements the group are known for doing. "Oh Josephine" could be mistaken for a Wilco song, with Chris Robinson making the kind of sentiment that Jeff Tweedy is known for, as he sings about missing the good times, the sunrise, and the sweet kisses only Josephine can supply him. For all I know the song could be about a drug named Josephine, or the beautiful cook at the bakery around the corner who knows how to make those muffins, but the listener feels the admiration and the sorrow now removed, knowing that Josephine is right in front of him. The intro guitar riff in "Evergreen" sounds like it was pulled from the Led Zeppelin vaults, but then it gets into the desire of looking for that lady that will make the world feel better. Again, maybe the Evergreen in question is really weed, but I'm joking around for the sake of doing so, but it's fitting.
The rest of the album is like that, where wine and rolling papers are always near, and that cinnamon taste from a kiss always lingers, and guys who know what it means to communicate those feelings through music. The cover art shows an illustration of of different warriors riding on horses, from an astronaut to a Mexican bandit, a Native American to a wizard, riding through a field of what looks like magic mushrooms. It suggests that no matter who you are or where you're from, you're welcome to join in the Black Crowes party. They've never been afraid to share their love of the blues, and because of their Southern roots they aren't about to deny their love of country music. The longhairs are back, the freak flag is flowing in the wind, and they're about to rock. Right on.
(BTW - does anyone know if the field Chris Robinson is walking on in the CD booklet the same one he was lying down naked in the cover for The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion? Inform.)
(Warpaint is available from CD Universe.)
Composer Daniel Dorff was asked to compose music for a series of shows that would cover the joy of various children fairy tales and stories. The Tortoise and The Hare & Other Tales (Bridge) is a CD that honors his work and the stories that have excited children for decades, and does so by utilizing a full orchestra as well as smaller groups. "Blast Off!" and "Billy And The Carnival" are the pieces with full orchestral arrangements, both featuring narration from Ukee Washington, a news anchor on Philiadelphia's CBS3. When he asks the listener if they ever dreamed of being able to fly into outer space, one can imagine a child feeling as excited about the possibility as they are hearing Washington, perhaps believing he may have been someone to take flight as well. Dorff's music steadily shows the anticipation of that flight before eventually heading beyond the atmosphere, and I'm sure Washington had a lot of fun doing this.
Actress Ann Plumb handles the narration for "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and "Three Fun Fables", these accompanied by smaller orchestras. For those who may know her for her singing (she was the vocalist on a double CD which displayed her father's work, Complete Crumb Edition, Volume Ten (her father being composer George Crumb), you will no doubt be delighter by her spoken performances here, especially in "Goldilocks and the Three Bears". Again, the music in these pieces are enthusiastic, and hopefully the listener will be moved and remember these versions of the stories when they grow up. For the adult, I think it's nice to hear these stories done in a manner that isn't dated. It reveals the power of classical music, and of course the beauty and mystery of the human voice, all meant to prepare a child for the big world they will become a part of when it is their time.
(The Tortoise and The Hare is available directly from Bridge Records.)
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey are a group who have gained a devoted following among their fans, as well as among admirers of adventurous jazz and the jamband afficionados. The group have allowed fans to record their live shows for trading purposes only (i.e. no bootlegging), which like many taper-friendly bands, allow fans to hear the progress and tranisition of their music. The group are about to take things to another level with a brand new album, Lil' Tae Rides Again (Hyena).
In the last ten years or so, anytime a new three piece jazz band starts making a name for themselves, especially if they are of the caucasian variety, they are immediately compared to Medeski, Martin & Wood. It's always "can they out-Medeski Medeski", or "are they as ill as illyB" and I think while that has definitely allowed some of these bands to gain acceptance, I'm certain that a few of them hope that they are able to move out of their shadows and be heard as their own band with their own identity and sound. JFJO have been compared to MMW many times, but in the last few years they have done the kind of music that sets them apart from their peers, and Lil' Tae Rides Again is no exception. What I like about this album is that they tend to take off in a progressive rock mode, but still keep themselves rooted in jazz. Each of them know their own musicianship better than anyone, but when they know each other's, there's a bond and unity that can't be touched, and it's great to hear a group that play in harmony with each other. There's also a bit of electronic play within the sound, but rather than have that dominate, it becomes an additional ingredient to their always evolving-sound. Their bio talks about the album having "atmospherics" and "minimalist melodies" and that tends to show up throughout the album. Parts of this album are very sparse, but in these moments the band are able to focus on what will happen next, the anticipation for "the next" makes those (semi-) awkward silent moments even more exciting. In those moments when they dabble into electronic soundscapes, they cover a lot of ground too, not trying to be just one style or the other. "Tether Ball Triumph" has a lot of lighthearted sequences that gives the song a bubbly feel, while the compressed and distorted drums of "Tae Parade" (free MP3) might please those who love similar sounds as created by Jaga Jazzist. Within the digitized silence is the same kind of anticipation that can be found in their organic music, and that in turn may remind electronic music fans of the sounds that were explored in the 70's.
What is the JFJO recipe? It's their own brew and stew, and one that they can add to at any given time. New fans who are coming in from an electronic perspective will find a lot of reasons to stay for their "standard" jazz fare, while longtime fans will hopefully be open to their commitment to exploring the boundaries of their music. Lil' Tae Rides Again is a ride that awaits those for the long haul, and one that will excite those taking the excursion for the first time.
(Lil 'Tae Rides Again will be released on April 8th. Vinyl and CD can be pre-ordered directly from the Official JFJO web store. The group are also putting together animated videos for each song, to be released one by one leading up to the release of the album. You can see one of them here, courtesy of YouTube.)
For John Ellis' new album, he has a new set of musicians that he is calling Double Wide (which consist of Jason Marsalis on drums, Matt Perrine on sousaphone, and Gary Versace on organ and accordion. His last album, By A Thread, showed someone who proved he has the confidence to play what he wanted to play. The title of Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (Hyena) could be a way to tell people to enjoy what they have now, because it may not be here tomorrow. Fittingly, the album is linked to the music and spirit of New Orleans, and by tapping into the soul of the people, the four musicians create an album that is a celebration of the past and a push towards a brighter future.
The album begins with the song of Perrine's sousaphone, which he not only plays but for a brief moment speaks with it. The sound of the organ and a tambourine immediately puts you into a hot church on Sunday morning. It's a familiar sound for some, and Ellis eventually makes his presence known with something uplifting. Now, one can sense the church is in jubiliation, and Ellis' playing is almost a reaction of the dancing that might happen if these musicians were in an actual church, getting the crowd to dance and groove. Versace's organ work gets down to the nitty-gritty and he enters a groove that might be sacreligious but it doesn't matter, groove speaks in all denominations. Add to that Marsalis' always-in-the-pocket drumming, and together they set the pace for the rest of the album. "Trash Bash" comes off as a low-key big band, as if only two members of the horn section arrived and they did what they had to do to keep the party jumping. The role of each member in this song is passed around, getting equal billing and making it possible for each of them to represent in their own way. There are times when Ellis' playing gets funky in a James Brown manner, or I should say a Maceo Parker manner, match that up with Versace's playing and it becomes the unspoken language that only musicians can understand and provide.
One of my favorite songs on the album has to be "Dream And Mosh", and mosh isn't a word generally associated with jazz. What you do hear is a groove that comes from incorporating a bit of 70's funk and the kind of intensity that one might associate with a metal band, but done in a jazzy manner. There's a lot of sweet and sensitive playing, and what I also like is how Perrine's sousaphone almost sounds like a bass, you'll have to remind yourself that it's not a stringed instrument. Ellis tends to color the song with bright colors through the use of the soprano before the song goes back into the main theme and becomes a bit sinister. The contradiction in textures is what makes the song work, the yin and yang of bright and darkness becoming one with each other and creating beautiful harmony. When the album reaches the final song, the title track, it feels as if everyone knows it's time to say goodbye but not without one last dance and strut into the sunset, only because they also know more is in store when the moon brightens the sky in full.
Dance Like There's No Tomorrow is the delight of jazz in a modern world, but that delight can't be experienced without acknowledging what came before. One can sense the ancestry throughout the playing, not only amongst the musicians on the album but anyone who has ever called New Orleans home and made the city their reason for being, or found the city a reason for visiting and almost impossible to leave. It sounds like home, without the aroma of a meal being cooked up for the evening.
(Dance Like There's No Tomorrow can be ordered directly from CD Universe.)
The wordless route is what Algernon are all about, and on their Familiar Espionage (Ears & Eyes) they reveal that you can say a hell of a lot without saying a word. I know, you probably read those same words in every other review for this album, but I haven't read any reviews, so consider that coincidence, okay? What you're really thinking is Algernon, cool sounding name, I have no idea what the hell that means but I'm intrigued, moreso by a title like Familiar Espionage? What are they about? I'll try to explain.
Algernon are a quintet who bring together elements of rock and jazz and combine that with a love for twisting textures, soundscapes, and semi-confusing time signatures. A select few of you read that last sentence and a thought balloon went over your head screaming MATH ROCK!!! If that's the term you're used to, I'll use that, but yes, the band will play what sounds normal and standard during one part of the song, and then you'll hear things move in 4/4, 3/4, 5/4, and maybe 14/4, only to twist itself into another equation that actually equals to a sum that evens everything out. They do this with a drums, bass, two guitar set-up, but also add to this a vibraphone and glockenspiel (both played by Katie Wiegman). Together, they create sounds that can sound frightful, eerie, and overly exciting at the same time, at times sounding more like a classical string quartet raised on punk than an average rock band who only know about 4 on the floor. "Beneath The Ailing Flesh" begins sounding like lounge music, but in the middle everyone in the group is playing at their own pace, complete with guitars run through effect pedals and turning feedback into digital tones of displeasure. Eventually the drummer (Cory Healey) gets locked down in a beat and they all morph into one flowing being, all before Wiegman takes the rest of the band to a sense of calm.
Those who find interest in the wordless sonics of 65daysofstatic will find Algernon a band worth looking into. While both bands are completely different in sound, they both share respect towards taking their music to whatever direction it leads them.
(Familiar Espionage is available directly from Ears & Eyes Records.)
Speaking of 65daysofstatic, with the band heading into the United States for the first time, opening up for The Cure, the band are about to release their debut album in the U.S., an album that many had either bought or downloaded for awhile. If you downloaded it, now it's time to be respectful and buy a copy.
The Fall Of Math (Monotreme) was released in 2004, and while not getting an immediate buzz here, in England it was a completely different story, as it became a favorite of the late John Peel and in turn became a pick on many best of lists for the year. That would lead to a buzz stateside, and after taking a listen, people were immediately floored by yanking power chords with close-to-metal riffs with electronica and digital errors and turning it into something that could be listened to repeatedly. What fans liked about them is how they would take their music further with each song, and by the end it left them wondering how much further they could go.
(The Fall Of Math will be released on March 18th and is available from CD Universe.)
The opening cut on Steve Dooks' Cocktails, Heartaches And Cigars (self-released) is called "Smooth And Easy", and that is exactly how I would describe his style of jazz. Dooks lays down the vocals like a jazz statesman, all while alternating between piano and guitar, and with a tight band backing him up, he hits up the better side of Harry Connick Jr. and shows that vocalized jazz can and will always be cool if you have the skills and finesse to make it work (and he has both).
Even though it has an old feel, Dooks wrote the majority of the songs here, so he's someone who wants to bring in many aspects of his talent. The coolness of his music is what I like, and it shows in "What Does Your Heart Say", "I Don't Have You Anymore", a'dn "The Smile On Your Face". The cover artwork of him in an almost empty bar, with a sexy woman in blue heels, is the aura he wants to give off throughout the album as if to say "don't give up hope, you still have a chance, and when you do, don't miss the opportunity." Even when he reaches down for the blues, there's always a hint of optimism, or as your parents used to say, "there's always another day". It's classy music, and maybe it's the perfect time to bring class back to music and the world.
(Cocktails, Heartaches And Cigars is available from CDBaby)
If hard bop is your thing, go directly to Paul Carr and ask him for the goods, and you can collect your $200 along the way. Carr honors a man who was a a major influence on his music, and creates an album that shows what jazz can mean to the individual. Musically Yours: Remembering Joe Henderson (PCJ Music) is an album for true saxophone lovers, listeners who want to hear the main man rip and not let go until it's absolutely necessary to stop. He covers a number of Henderson songs, including "Our Thing" and Carr's solo is one of absolute mayhem, but a good mayhem at that. Just as when you think he's played his solo to perfection, he goes for another 8 bars or so and stops, leading pianist Mulgrew Miller to come in and be welcome into Carr's home as Lewis Nash (drums) Terell Stafford (trumpet), and Michael Bowie bass are there to solidify everyone's homecoming. The way Carr and Stafford play with each other during the song's last minute is one that every jazz musician should listen to, as that's the kind of stuff that will make someone want to pick up an instrument for the first time.
Other Henderson songs are re-examined for a new generation, including "Mamacia", "Y Todavia LaQuiero", and "Black Narcisus", and each time Carr makes sure that he plays with honor and doing so as if he is saying "thank you, Joe". His improvisations show his incredible strength as a musician, and in the two songs that he wrote himself ("Classroom Agenda" and the title track) he shows that he could be the next muse for an upcoming musician. Henderson fans will be pleased that the songs covered here are not the usual chestnuts, so it somehow makes them sound as fresh as they did when they were first recorded and released.
What also makes this a plus is how the album was recorded, it sounds like the room was done right making it possible to hear things in a better way. The liner notes indicate it was recorded at Maggie's Farm Recording Studio in Pipersville, Pennsylvania. Looking at the website and their photos, the studio looks like a cabin you'd find at a winter resort, and one can hear these songs and get a feel for what engineer Matt Ballitsaris was trying to get for Carr. It sounds like those old albums on Prestige and Contemporary, but with a cleaner feel to it. From the musicianship to the microphones that captured this, Musically Yours is a letter that everyone should read/hear. Carr is someone that I hope will continue to record and make music as moving as this.
(Musically Yours: Remembering Joe Henderson is available from CDBaby)
Electric blues never sounded so raunchy as it does in the capable hands of Florida's Swamp Cabbage (Jagoda on drums, Walter Parks on vocals and guitar, and Matt Lindsey on bass). Squeal (Zoho Roots) is an album of music they call "fatback blues and trailer park funk", a bit like The Chickasaw Muddpuppies if they managed to make it to the steps of Chess Records in the early 1960's.
Parks voice is raspy like eating laundry soap and only having dishwashing liquid to rinse it down, so the way he sounds makes him sound crude, which in turns makes him want to sing lewd. "Jesus Tone" is about the heavenly-approval of how he plays and sings, and that there's no other tone that will do. "Dixieland" is about a country man looking for big dreams by moving into the big city, knowing that everyone will be impressed by what he has to offer (and if one reads between the lines, he has a lot to offer). "Feedbag" is about that skin sack of leche that all babies need for nourishment, and one that a lot of adult men (and women) are always longing to touch and sip from. Titties make a return in "Poontang", where Parks questions and validates his faith by being tempted by the sweetness of something he can never deny.
The entire album is like this, and with the cover illustration of a pig, it's obvious that Swamp Cabbage know what they're guilty of: having a good time. To paraphrase an old song, temptation is about to get them, but they're not running away from it either. It's the kind of gritty blues that when you were a kid, you didn't dare play in front of your parents. You didn't quite understand it, but you liked the nastiness and what it meant. Once you understood it, you wanted to do the same many times over, which is how you should approach this album. If it's bad, it has to be good, and these guys aren't about to be choir boys just because they can.
(Squeal is available from CDBaby.)
Your tongue/it tastes like daggers
This is a lyric heard in "Hopscotch & Sodapop" and I have to ask: what do daggers taste like, and why are you eating them?
The Boxing Lesson do not answer questions as bold as this. What the group does do on Wild Streaks & Windy Days (Big Bigness) is try to cover a lot of ground with a bit of pop, rock, and prog rock, even a pinch of pop but it's hard to say if they are in it for the sake of changing up, or that they're unsure of where to go. The aforementioned "Hopscotch & Sodapop" sounds like Tom Petty if he was with that band who sang that crappy "Breakfast At Tiffany's" song (Deep Blue Something). Move forward to "Hanging With The Wrong Crowd" and they do well on the pop/punk, complete with steely guitars with a lot of reverb and a synth line that makes them sound like early 80's new wave. The main vocalist is guitarist Paul Waclawsky, but it's nice when he shares the vocals with keyboardist Jaylin Davidson, she compliments his angst quite well.
If you sit in a dark room alone while this album plays, it may be the perfect method to fuck you up and take this album to heart, especially when Davidson's synths make her out to be a modern day Rick Wright. I'm not quite sure just yet what direction they want to head towards, but it seems they're willing to try out a wide range of things in order to keep traveling. May they continue seeking.
(Wild Streaks & Windy Days is available from CDBaby.)
After playing this, I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Theresia Bothe and Peter Croton are, according to the cover, "A unique blend of folk, pop & jazz", and their method is simple: electric guitar (played by Croton) and vocals (shared by the both of them). I really like Croton's guitar work, very much in the tradition of many jazz guitarists throughout the years, but the "folk" part of the equation comes from the way Bothe and Croton sing.
I'll Sing A Song For You (Zah Zah) reminds me of a mash-up, where you combine one piece of music with something that might be unrelated and try to make it work. I'm not sure if it works in this sense, but what I hear is American jazz guitar playing combined with the traditions of European folk. Imagine George Benson going to a renaissance fair. I like what I hear, even if at times it doesn't sound like a perfect fit. What I do like are the lyrics, and if they were covered by others, I think it would help shine the light on Bothe and Croton's unique musical union.
(I'll Sing A Song For You is available from Guildmusic.com.)
When I saw the name Steve Smith on the CD, I immediately thought it was the old drummer from Journey, who has been involved in jazz long before he joined them. But the face was not of the Steve Smith I had known of. Instead it was Steve Smith of Dirty Vegas fame, and to be honest I didn't even know or care that there were actual members. I loved the song and video for "Days Gone By", thought the album was good but didn't think they (as a group) would be around any longer. Well, Smith left Dirty Vegas and is making an attempt at a solo career and the results are quite surprising.
This Town (G.A.S.) is an album that features pop and acoustic elements, far from what one would expect from what he did with Dirty Vegas. But this is Smith's own music, and it's charming enough to listen to over and over. It can be a bit quirky too, and perhaps that comes from those he collaborated on this one, including Rob Swift of The X-ecutioners and producer Anthony Saffery, who has worked with Beck and Cornershop. Smith plays a number of instruments on this, including drums, guitar, Omnichord (YES!), harmonica, and a Fender Rhodes, so he probably has visions of becoming a Lindsey Buckingham or Todd Rundgren type, maybe even going further than Remy Shand did. It's a powerful album full of irresistible pop diamonds that may not have done anything for him had he started out this way, but the Dirty Vegas angle will make people think about moving to the next level with Smith as a singer/songwriter. He's off to a wonderful start, or maybe it's a continuation of what has been planned all along.
(This Town is available from CD Universe.)
Videogaming is a billion dollar industry, and those days of when Atari actually dumped tons of consoles and cartridges at dumps when no one cared about sitting in front of a screen all day are long gone. Kentucky's own Laromlab never wants to forget that, and on his self-titled album (Mushpot) he creates music that sound like he is the wizard of the Commodore VIC20 and the Atari 7800.
The music itself is lo-fi electronica mayhem done with 8-bit technology. A lot of people are making music this way, from Pixelh8 to Diplo, and its retro-sound has made it appealing to what would be called the Nintendo generation (and believe it or not, there's a sub-genre of music called Nintendocore). Laromlab is very much about archiving the precious sounds of 8-bit technology, and his album sounds like one is entering a game room, with soundtracks created by funky composers and Roger Waters. What you get is the similar sound of video game music, but it takes it much further, showing that the original chiptune composers knew what they were doing even if the majority of the world didn't. Time and technology has caught up with everyone, and now it's possible for anyone to make those sounds interactive. "Zipp Zapp" begins in a way that sounds like the character in the video game is about to die, but then the beat picks up and now you imagine him getting crunk. "Return Of Da Stomp" would probably get a crowd jumping, if not a riot. Johnny Cage wins? Fuck that, it's about you, Glen Miyashiro, and you, Ben Mugwumps, grooving and getting lost in those pulsating bass urges.
The idea of hearing video game music may sound boring, but it's not familiar game theme songs you're hearing, but rather using the technology to make that music to create superfresh dance tracks for today. There is a huge chiptune movement out there, with some well known producers (Timbaland being one of them) stealing their works without permission. With hope, Laromlab can not only make music that will work for commercials and film, but to be able to collaborate with singers and rappers so that he can dabble in the world that Daft Punk has flirted with courtesy of Kanye West.
Actually, I would like to see and hear a battle between Pixelh8 and Laromlab. If these two can collaborate on a split album, and then have two tracks where they tackle each other like the infamous Wilson-Phillips vs. Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. fight, it would be sick. Bra, I got quarters, bring it on.
(The debut from Laromlab is available from his MySpace page. You can see him at work here, courtesy of YouTube.)
Team Genius are a team but are they genius? Eh, that's a bad way to start a review, let's try again.
Team Genius released the Hooray EP on their own, and they are a punk/pop band who create lighthearted, fist pumping anthems, or at least tentative anthems. Upon hearing the opening track, the tentative orgy anthem "Let's All Sleep Together", it immediately reminded me of Pixies. "Sing Song", however, sounds like the kind of song you'd sing at camp or on a school bus when you're going on field trips and the only fun activity is detecting what the bus driver ate for dinner by detecting the odor of the flatulence. It's fun and quirky, geeky and dorky, but it's obvious these guys are having fun. The band originally started out as a trio by brothers Drew & Chad Hermiller and Scott Dyer. Bringing in Erin Griffith and Emma Firth helped the guys stop scratching their balls during sessions, but having ladies in the band seemed to make them bigger loons, and perhaps Griffith and Firth felt right at home. Along with bassist Chris Hudik, the grown are a fun band who don't mind sharing their love of The Buzzcocks, Ween, Sex Pistols, and King Missile (Dog Fly Religion), and Animal Collective. The EP was recorded in the offiicial Hermiller living room, and it actually sounds like a cassette that had been in the mailbox two days too long. The mix is not quite professional, but I like that, it's raw and in turn innocent, because once they get into a proper studio, who knows what kind of mayhem they will brew in there. I can see them lasting longer than their influences, and maybe they can tour on a bus with a bus driver who creates sweet flatulence. If someone can find that driver, school districts across North America will clone them. I do not think that the men and women of Team Genius should be cloned, because they sound like a smart bunch of people who want to discover people who can broaden their fun. Watch out, the tour bus at the end of their tours will be an orgy that cannot be explained by church leaders. Have fun.
(Hooray will be available through the official Team Genius homepage.)
The medical field will become useless if there are No Doctors, but in this case I am not talking about body chefs, but a noisy ass rock band with punk svelte who use chainsaws as picks (not really) and get their swagger out into the open with fierce songs from the containment of fwap fwap. It's true,
Origin & Tectonics (self-released) is their third album, and it sounds like guys who grew up with Tom Petty but imagined him fronting Trumans Water or X. In other words, rock'n'roll integrity seems to be important to them and if they feel like playing sweet soundtrack pop they will. If they feel like jumping into a pool with an amplified kalimba they will, although the songs on the album is full of the kind of electricity that makes it worth going to a stink club. "Remembering" reminds me of a bit of the mid-80's Seattle sound that was influenced by Pere Ubu and NRBQ, but with a Stooges-like quality that might bring out the unexpected in their music. The hooks and riffs are incredible, and just when it seems like the entire band will die from electric shock, they tone it down and layer themselves in acoustic rockabilly, as they do in "Yardin". The arrangements are tight, but I imagine that they let that go in a live setting, or at least the intensity of their music is enhanced by the energy that bounces between audience and band. But the album is exciting as is, and it's nice to know that people still care to rock with a middle finger to what is supposed to sound proper. Fuck on, dudes, fuck on.
Free No Doctors MP3's:
Tuning Th' Sunrain
(Origin & Tectonics is available on vinyl and CD directly from the official No Doctors website.)
The moment I popped in More Deeper (Heartbreakbeat) by Vincent Black Shadow it sounded like I arrived at a club too late and the band started without me. These guys play with the kind of power which says to me "fuck it, we're going to start without you", and their brand of punked up hard rock is perfect for a dying world. Vocalist Adam Savage sounds as ruthless as his last name, showing hints of Blag Dahlia, Eric Davidson and Trend Ruane layered over the intense grooves of The Stooges, MC5 and every other acid-ridden band that ever set foot in Detroit, even hints of Black Sabbath and Buzzov·en, meaning they can sound like on speed and eventually read the land of ultra-downers and molasses. The band (Rufus Platt on drums, Dirck Ober on bass, Dave Litz and Dan O. on guitars) are out there for the power of rock and each other, and they occasionally throw in subliminal blues riffs (as they do in "Pac Man Jones") to throw people off.
Their album, originally released in 2007, sounds like the band who would have been at Woodstock, witnessing Abbie Hoffman get hit by Pete Townshend, only for them to jump on stage and throw Townshend into the crowd. The entire album was recorded in analog, so for those of you who have hi-pro audiophile set-ups, turn it down a notch because I can guarantee that police officers will bust into your luxurious home, yell in your face and say TURN THIS MUFALAKIN SHIT UP!!! It's truly gut wrenching rock, the type that reminds you of the days when you wanted to kick your mom in the face.
(More Deeper is available directly from Heartbreakbeat Records. Suggestion to the label: RELEASE THIS ON VINYL.)
Aggressive power pop for the masses, and butt clenching rock for them asses, that's what We Were The States play to a starving world. Believe The Thieves (Chicken Ranch) is a ruthless albums that show a love for The Kinks, Hüsker Dü, and will definitely appeal to those who still have a love for the passionate punk of Gas Huffer. The chemistry between these guys is incredible, especially between drummer Nick Devan and bassist Benjamin P. Moore, add in several layers of jingly jangly guitar (courtesy of Jay Stoyanov and some organistic pung pung (Jason Harding) and they completely rip shit up. Is this what the underground rock scene in Nashville is all about? Hell yeah, I want more. (Favorites include "Red Lion", "Till Morning Comes", and "Girl, You're Not A Thief".)
(Believe The Thieves is available directly from Chicken Ranch Records.)
I remember a time when every other magazine I picked up made reference to Flat Duo Jets, as they were a band critics and fans alike appreciated for their stripped down version of rock'n'roll, which many artists were doing. It was post-punk before it was even post-anything, and in truth being punk was about sticking to your nards and wanting to rock for the rock of it. This two piece, headed by Dexter Romweber, would release a number of records, tour almost endlessly, make it to a major but somehow did not gain the massive attention (or longetivity) as the many other bands who were once associated with them. The group broke up, but not before influencing a number of bands who enjoyed their more-than-ruthless approach, be it The White Stripes, Neko Case or the immortal Rev. Horton Heat (you can hear the influence of The Flat Duo jets in songs like "Where In The Hell Did You Go With My Toothbrush" and "Eat Steak".)
A documentary film on Romweber and the group came out two years ago, and it has taken this long for a songtrack album to materialize but here it is. Two Headed Cow (Chicken Ranch) dips into the archives and offers up 17 previously unreleased studio and live tracks that will only enhance their legacy tenfold. Romweber comes off as a sidewalk preacher downtown with nothing but a guitar and an amp, but really it's about being blessed with the power of rock'n'roll and trying to do as best as you can with what you have. It may be a lo-fi approach, but you didn't need 15 to 20 people onstage to move a crowd. Whether it was a room of 1000 people or a club of 5, the Flat Duo Jets were a musical force, and Romweber was someone who carried himself through the voyage, even if that meant putting an end to the group. Two Headed Cow shows how music can become timeless when the original emotions experiences can be passed on from generation to generation.
(Two Headed Cow is available directly from Chicken Ranch Records.)
The CD cover looks like it was put together by a 4-year old girl, and with a name like Boo And Boo Too one might agree. This isn't baby or butt rock, but rather it's the kind of ete-less rock that sounds like The Hives mixed in with Romeo Void or The Waitresses. Their debut EP (Iron Paw) may only consist of four songs, but what they do with these four songs is rock out in a way that bands with 15 albums to their name were never able to accomplish. Their knack to get noisy may bring to mind Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine (and I'm not mentioning them because they were both mentioned in their bio), but they also are capable of making radio-friendly songs, or at least college radio friendly, especially "David Turns A Mystic". What I like about this song is that along with the waves of feedback and distortion there's someone playing a piano melody. It sounds "off", as in "this really shouldn't belong here" but it does, especially when you hear a few minor chords. As far as being off-key, "You Are A Tide" sounds like someone who is drunk and forgot how to sing, or he knows but just wants to embarrass his girlfriend, while "Couch On Fire" makes me feel sorry for his uvula.
I also like how they create their brand of rock and kind of twist things by adding a piano, or a saxophone, both of which have been a part of rock'n'roll's history but are considered old by young fucks who think their brand of rock is better. Boo And Boo Too know the importance of history but also know that things have to move on, and that's what it sounds like, a fierce form of rock that looks forward to what they will come up with when it's time to relax and put together music again.
(Their self-titled EP is available directly from Iron Paw Records.)
Judging from this column so far, it seems that the spirit of good rock'n'roll is in the air, as almost every album I've reviewed in this column has been a verified banger. Here's another one.
O! The Joy's Zen Mode (Distile) are one of those bands who sound like they listened to a lot of different sounds, but want to be able to filter it through one or two solid treams. But then they start throwing out other influences and I'll be honest, I was smiling from ear to ear as I was listening to this because it sounds good. The type of altered audio visions these guys create may put them alongside Coheed & Cambria and The Mars Volva, if not the Foo Fighters. "Conceivable Test Tube Baby" has them reaching for the power pop with power chords and everything, then getting into a Close To The Edge-era Yes moment before slowing things almost to a halt and getting bluesy as if Neil Young had entered a room and wanted to share his pedal collection. The solo by Jason Ellis is on that right side of incredible, and it continues on for what feels like a long time, letting all of the emotions out and allowing the song to ride on for as long as it can. If Duane Allman was alive, he would definitely find many reasons to sit in with these guys and jam, but bring on Vernon Reid, Buckethead, or even John Mayer.
To sum it up, they probably would fit in the "math rock" category for today's audiences, but it's the style of rock that is reminiscent of what many prog rock bands were doing in the 70's, when anything and everything was thrown in the fire. In fact, it's very much modern day prog rock, and while anyone could name tons of bands that offer similar vibes, these guys really don't sound like anyone. They're not stuck in Munich or Copenhagen either, this is very much a modern album with modern touches that for a lot of people will totally kill those damn hippie records. O! The Joy are far out when they need be, and that's pretty much for the entire album. Rather than conform, people need to be far out to get into them, especially when it sounds like everything in the studio is about to blow up and catch fire. Take your medication before listening.
(Zen Mode will be released on March 18th, but can be pre-ordered through CD Universe.)
The pharmacy may be a place where you can pick up your medications, but The Pharmacy sound like they've been on banana peels for months. Choose Yr Own Adventure (Don't Stop Believin') begins gentle and calm, but then they start being inquisitive and start turning up the volume for an adventure that doesn't let up for the duration of the album, and that's probably due to doing it Seattle style. Some have described them as psychedelic pop, but it's a lot more guitar driven, or at least the guitars are more prominent than what I would hear as psych pop. Psych rock, definitely, and they incorporate non-rock instrumentation to get their points across too, which is interesting since they once dabbled in synth-based music before. This is more organic and I was going to say "authentic" but my version of "real" might be different from yours, but it just feels good and right. In songs like "Little Toys On A Shelf" and "Turned To Granite" you can hear the composition and transitions, it's not just a slab of sound here or some added distortion there, there's a sense of purpose with these guys. Well written songs with volume and finesse, is it possible? Yes indeedee.
From the land of Saimin Says are Pleasureboaters, a trio and... yeah I know, you expect me to say "power trio" because it suggests that by lacking a member that is common with the stereotypical quartet, they have to compensate and sound like they are a band with four members or more. No, you can do that. No, what I want to say is that these guys are obnoxious and noisy, and create brutal rock that sounds like what constipation feels. ¡Gross! (Don't Stop Believin') is not about playing nice or doing things by the book, but instead is an album that takes the normal and burns it down. A part of their sound reminds me a bit of some of the noisy stuff that was coming out of San Diego in the early 90's, stuff like Rocket From The Crypt or Drive Like Jehu. Pleasureboaters take the models they left behind and come up with stuff that's pretty intense, "Leopard Print Babyware" and "Cockhair" are songs that may make you want to pull out your hair because you can't take the speed of the output of their velocity. "State Of The Union" sounds a bit like Chris Cornell performance in Soundgarden's "H.I.V. Baby", while "Rockpaperscissors" may make a few people dust off their Alice Donut albums. "Elliptical Realism" comes off like entering a secret club you're not supposed to know, but now that you're there, you're going to be initiated into their musical revolution with mutual vocal chants. Pleasureboaters are like buying a box of marbles and throwing it in a room with guitars and amps turned up all the way. You have no idea what it's going to sound like, but you can't believe that something so spontaneous can sound so good.
(Choose Yr Own Adventure and ¡Gross! are available on both vinyl (YES!!!) and CD from Don't Stop Believin' Records.)
...AND NOW, THE HAWAIIAN MUSIC CORNER
The new album from Kawao sounds like it could be a really good soul song in the tradition of Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, and I'm thinking right on, something different. But at the 18 second mark, it clicks right into their brand of Jawaiian music.
The album cover shows Walt G. and China looking classy, blinging it up a bit and letting people know what they are about. For the most part, the lyrical themes are pretty much the same: innocent man meets innocent girl, innocent man hopes to fall in love with innocent girl, innocent man makes an attempt to impress the innocent girl with some of the best words ever written. Here's a sample lyric from "Settle Down":
Saw you just the other night, I was hanging with the guys
You gave me that disappointed look as if you were surprised
You couldn't get your eyes off me, I was having the time of my life
You feelin' me girl way too much, you thinking you're my wife
It sounds very innocent of course, as if 60's pop or 70's bubble gum music was still as popular today as it was back then, but in many ways that's fine. One thing I noticed about most of this album is an urge to be either domesticated. The guys are always looking for the right woman so that she can be his wife, or because another lady is flirting with him, he wants to let her know that she is not his wife. There's always a sense of long term commitment, and it can be a refreshing change from listening to songs that might suggest... well, suggestive things. It's not lyrically nasty at all, not with songs like "For My Special Girl", "More Than Just Words", "I Need Your Love", and "Lovers Better Than Friends". However, there is a surprise found in the album's closer.
"Turn Me On", however, has Kawao getting genuinely funky and it's nice to see them open up a bit because I can imagine that once they start playing this, the models and self-proclaimed titas are raising their hands and hoping to uf the night way:
You really know what it takes to turn me on
I like the way you do it baby
The way you move those hips with those red hot thongs
I'm wrapped around your fingers, baby
You give it like this (LIKE THIS), like that (LIKE THAT), turn around girl (SMACK!)
Your freaky fingers rubbin' on me
I like it like this (LIKE THIS), like that (LIKE THAT), back it up right here (SMACK!)
Throw it down right on me lady (ROOF!)
It actually works, because the intro of the album begins a certain way, but it comes off a bit like foreplay before they commit themselves to flirting by being the perfect gentlemen. The innocence is what it takes to entice, and when it's the right time... you'll know. The funk goes back to the days of Cameo, L.T.D., and Lakeside and if anything it's a group that shows they can be serious but are open into having a good time without fear. The Jawaiian songs actually sound quite good, especially "Your Time To Shine". It sounds like they used a Hammond B-3, but is most likely a B-3-type plug-in/effect for keyboards, but it's nice to hear a keyboard sound other than the Sears default.
The bond they speak about is one of friendship, of family, of home, and of course making music, and they know very well how to move their audiences and potential new fans. I would not mind seeing them be open to other outside sounds other than what they are used to, for that might help bring them to a broader audience if they were open to that. They don't have to change what they have become known for, but just add in a few other spices here and there to see how they can strengthen their power as a group. All these guys need is one killer ballad, and all pau, ladies will be throwing panties for days.
(The Bond That Binds is available from e808.com.)
...AND NOW, SOME STUFFS (a/k/a MUSIC NEWS)
I would hope not, dawg, but good lookin' out, and I'm out.